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Atlanta Exposition, at which I had been asked to make an address as a
representative of the Negro race, as stated in the last chapter, was opened with
a short address from Governor Bullock. After
other interesting exercises, including an invocation from Bishop Nelson, of
Georgia, a dedicatory ode by Albert Howell, Jr., and addresses by the President
of the Exposition and Mrs. Joseph Thompson, the President of the Woman’s Board,
Governor Bullock introduce me with the words, “We have with us to-day a
representative of Negro enterprise and Negro civilization.”
I arose to speak, there was considerable cheering, especially from the coloured
people. As I remember it now, the
thing that was uppermost in my mind was the desire to say something that would
cement the friendship of the races and bring about hearty cooperation between
them. So far as my outward
surroundings were concerned, the only thing that I recall distinctly now is that
when I got up, I saw thousands of eyes looking intently into my face. The following is the address which I delivered: --
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and
of the population of the South is of the Negro race.
No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this
section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest
success. I but convey to you, Mr.
President and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I say that
in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly
and generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at
every stage of its progress. It is
a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than
any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom.
only this, but the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new era of
industrial progress. Ignorant and
inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we
began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the state
legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the
political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a
dairy farm or truck garden.
ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel.
From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, “Water,
water; we die of thirst!” The
answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, “Cast down your bucket
where you are.” A second time
the signal, “Water, water; send us water!” ran up from the distressed
vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, “Cast down
your bucket where you are.” The
captain of the distressed vessel, at last heading the injunction, cast down his
bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the
Amazon River. To those of my race
who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate
the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man,
who is their next-door neighbour, I would say:
“Cast down your bucket where you are” -- cast it down in making
friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.
it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the
professions. And in this connection
it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to
bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the
Negro is given a man’s chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this
Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance.
Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we
may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of
our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we
learn to dignify and glorify common labour and put brains and skill into the
common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the
line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws [sic]
of life and the useful. No race can
prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in
writing a poem. It is at the bottom
of life we must begin, and not at the top.
Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and
strange tongue and habits of the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I
would repeat what I say to my own race: “Cast
down your bucket where you are.” Cast
it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose
fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant
the ruin of your firesides. Cast
down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars,
tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded [sic] your railroads and
cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped
make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.
Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as
you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you
will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in
your fields, and run your factories. While
doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your
families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and
unresentful people that the world has seen.
As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, nursing your children,
watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them
with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we
shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay
down our lives, if need be, in defence of yours, interlacing our industrial,
commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the
interests of both races one. In all
things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as
the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.
is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and
development of all. If anywhere
there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these
efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful
and intelligent citizen. Effort or
means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest.
These efforts will be twice blessed
“blessing him that gives and him that takes.”
is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:
The laws of changeless justice bind
close as sin and suffering joined
march to fate abreast.
sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will
pull against you the load downward. We
shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or
one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one- third to the
business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable
body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the
of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at an exhibition of
our progress, you must not expect overmuch.
Starting thirty years ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts
and pumpkins and chickens (gathered from miscellaneous sources), remember the
path that has led from these to the inventions and production of agricultural
implements, buggies, steam-engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving,
paintings, the management of drug-stores and banks, has not been trodden without
contact with thorns and thistles. While
we take pride in what we exhibit as a result of our independent efforts, we do
not for a moment forget that our part in this exhibition would fall far short of
your expectations but for the constant help that has come to our education life,
not only from the Southern states, but especially from Northern philanthropists,
who have made their gifts a constant stream of blessing and encouragement.
wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social
equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the
privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant
struggle rather than of artificial forcing.
No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is
long in any degree ostracized [sic]. It
is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly
more important that we be prepared for the exercises of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is
worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.
conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has given us more hope and
encouragement, and drawn us so near to you of the white race, as this
opportunity offered by the Exposition; and here bending, as it were, over the
altar that represents the results of the struggles of your race and mine, both
starting practically empty-handed three decades ago, I pledge that in your
effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the
doors of the South, you shall have at all times the patient, sympathetic help of
my race; only let this be constantly in mind, that, while from representations
in these buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory,
letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material
benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a
blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in
a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all
classes to the mandates of law. This,
this, [sic] coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved
South a new heaven and a new earth.
Material in the chapter for those interested in reading further:]
first thing that I remember, after I had finished speaking, was that Governor
Bullock rushed across the platform and took me by the hand, and that others did
the same. I received so many and such hearty congratulations that I
found it difficult to get out of the building.
I did not appreciate to any degree, however, the impression which my
address seemed to have made, until the next morning, when I went into the
business part of the city. As soon
as I was recognized, I was surprised to find myself pointed out and surrounded
by a crowd of men who wished to shake hands with me. This was kept up on every street on to which I went, to an
extent which embarrassed me so much that I went back to my boarding-place.
The next morning I returned to Tuskegee.
At the station in Atlanta, and at almost all of the stations at which the
train stopped between that city and Tuskegee, I found a crowd of people anxious
to shake hands with me.
papers in all parts of the United States published the address in full, and for
months afterward there were complimentary editorial references to it.
Mr. Clark Howell, the editor of the Atlanta _Constitution_, telegraphed
to a New York paper, among other words, the following, “I do not exaggerate
when I say that Professor Booker T. Washington’s address yesterday was one of
the most notable speeches, both as to character and as to the warmth of its
reception, ever delivered to a Southern audience.
The address was a revelation. The
whole speech is a platform upon which blacks and whites can stand with full
justice to each other.”
am often asked to express myself more freely than I do upon the political
condition and the political future of my race.
These recollections of my experience in Atlanta give me the opportunity
to do so briefly. My own belief is,
although I have never before said so in so many words, that the time will come
when the Negro in the South will be accorded all the political rights which his
ability, character, and material possessions entitle him to.
I think, though, that the opportunity to freely exercise such political
rights will not come in any large degree through outside or artificial forcing,
but will be accorded to the Negro by the Southern white people themselves, and
that they will protect him in the exercise of those rights.
Just as soon as the South gets over the old feeling that it is being
forced by “foreigners,” or “aliens,” to do something which
it does not want to do, I believe that the change in the direction that I have
indicated is going to begin. In
fact, there are indications that it is already beginning in a slight degree.
me illustrate my meaning. Suppose
that some months before the opening of the Atlanta Exposition there had been a
general demand from the press and public platform outside the South that a Negro
be given a place on the opening programme, and that a Negro be placed upon the
board of jurors of award. Would any
such recognition of the race have taken place?
I do not think so. The
Atlanta officials went as far as they did because they felt it to be a pleasure,
as well as a duty, to reward what they considered merit in the Negro race.
Say what we will, there is something in human nature which we cannot blot
out, which makes one man, in the end, recognize and reward merit in another,
regardless of colour or race.
believe it is the duty of the Negro -- as the greater part of the race is
already doing -- to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims,
depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of
property, intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his
political rights. I think that the
according of the full exercise of political rights is going to be a matter of
natural, slow growth, not an over-night, gourd-vine affair.
I do not believe that the Negro should cease voting, for a man cannot
learn the exercise of self-government by ceasing to vote, any more than a boy
can learn to swim by keeping out of the water, but I do believe that in his
voting he should more and more be influenced by those of intelligence and
character who are his next-door neighbours.
know coloured men who, through the encouragement, help, and advice of Southern
white people, have accumulated thousands of dollars’ worth of property, but who,
at the same time, would never think of going to those same persons for advice
concerning the casting of their ballots. This,
it seems to me, is unwise and unreasonable, and should cease.
In saying this I do not mean that the Negro should truckle, or not vote
from principle, for the instant he ceases to vote from principle he loses the
confidence and respect of the Southern white man even.
do not believe that any state should make a law that permits an ignorant and
poverty-stricken white man to vote, and prevents a black man in the same
condition from voting. Such a law
is not only unjust, but it will react, as all unjust laws do, in time; for the
effect of such a law is to encourage the Negro to secure education and property,
and at the same time it encourages the white man to remain in ignorance and
poverty. I believe that in time,
through the operation of intelligence and friendly race relations, all cheating
at the ballot-box in the South will cease.
It will become apparent that the white man who begins by cheating a Negro
out of his ballot soon learns to cheat a white man out of his, and that the man
who does this ends his career of dishonesty by the theft of property or by some
equally serious crime. In my
opinion, the time will come when the South will encourage all of its citizens to
vote. It will see that it pays
better, from every standpoint, to have healthy, vigorous life than to have that
political stagnation which always results when one-half of the population has no
share and no interest in the Government.
a rule, I believe in universal, free suffrage, but I believe that in the South
we are confronted with peculiar conditions that justify the protection of the
ballot in many of the states, for a while at least, either by an education test,
a property test, or by both combined; but whatever tests are required, they
should be made to apply with equal and exact justice to both races.
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